If one was to believe the late night infomercials or instagram ads or the covers of the popular fitness books and magazines, getting strong and muscular and in great shape can be done with minimal effort. Come to think of it, none of the models on any of that stuff are ever sweating or grunting or covered in chalk or, god forbid, leaning over a trash can puking their guts out. Why? Because the purveyors of the glossy , no effort needed brigade, understand that people do not want to see those images. They don’t want to see them because all of that involves being uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable is the last thing that most folks want. They know that those images, those images of strain, pain and effort won’t sell a damn thing.
Ah, but there’s the rub: Being uncomfortable, feeling the strain and the pain and the sweat and the inner battle of “will I or wont I finish” and persevering through the pain and momentary suffering are what separates the “truly strong” from the ” just want to be strong.”
What needs to happen is that the pain and burning and that feeling that you are gonna pass out at times needs to be welcomed, embraced and coveted by you. Because all of that is the way that it is supposed to be, and nobody talks about it enough. It’s the dirty little secret that nobody wants to discuss. It’s the spark that ignites the truly strong or it’s what causes the masses that are training half assed to make excuses on why they just can’t reach their goals in the weight room. It ain’t genetics, son.
It’s your attitude towards pain.
A few words on being uncomfortable: There is nothing, at least in my experience, that is worthwhile working for that doesn’t take tremendous dedication, hard work and times when you will be uncomfortable. You will be uncomfortable when you lift weights and there will be times when you will wonder just why it all has to feel so bad in order to reach your goals.. That’s the way it is, and that is the way it will always be. I frequently tell people that I train that no exercise in the weight room feels good, but the results are always worth it.
Here is what I really want you to do: I want you to take the pain of an exercise and be glad when the burning comes. For example, let's take a dumbbell curl. You are executing the movement super strictly. Perfect form on the way up, slow and controlled on the way down, then a pause in the stretched position before you begin again. At around the seventh rep, you start to feel a burning sensation in your biceps. At this point, acknowledge the burn and think to yourself , now I am growing! Every rep before the burning reps were just the precursor to what is happening now to your biceps.
You close your eyes and grit your teeth, determined to stay in the burning zone for as long as you can; this is what you are welcoming. You are able to squeeze out eight more reps, sweat has formed on your brow, and your legs are actually shaking as you come to the finish of your set. Your mind was in the muscle the whole time, and when you put the dumbbells down and shake your arms out, you feel a wonderful feeling; the pump has arrived in all of its glory .
Embracing the pain, deciding that the pain is a good thing made the set not a chore, but the pain is something that you welcomed , a needed sensation that you were glad had arrived.
And it’s the same scenario with high rep squats. Let's say that you must perform a set of twenty in the barbell back squat with a weight that you had previously only done for twelve reps before. You are determined to finish this set of twenty. It will take a supreme effort. You are feeling strong, inspired and confident. But as you get to rep number nine, that voice, that nagging little voice of doubt and doom starts to mess with you. You can't do it, you can stop, nobody will know that you didn't finish or think that you're a pussy.
But then the badass inner voice, I like to call it the VIKING VOICE, takes over. Don't be a pussy, you can finish, you WILL finish.
Reps twelve through fifteen are motherfuckers and your lungs are burning and your legs have begun to quiver. You can feel the pressure in your head building on each successive rep. You decide to show the first voice, that mocking son of a bitch, that you will persevere. You decide that all of the stuff that is happening to you is a good thing, that the burning is a welcome addition to the set, and that it means growth and the fact that your legs are unsteady has brought even more joy to your psyche because that really means growth.
You also tell yourself that when you get to the top of each rep, you will only allow yourself to take one breath before you descend again in the squat. As you approach reps fifteen through eighteen, you are fired up that you have already gone further with this weight than you ever have gone before. Reps nineteen and twenty are torture to your body, but it is welcome torture because of your rock solid do or die mindset.
The lockout of the 20th rep was slow, and you used every ounce of you will to finish. You set the bar back on the squat rack and you immediately feel like lying on the ground, but you don't. You begin walking towards the water fountain, sweat dripping off of your nose onto to the floor, your breathing is still like a locomotive after you get a drink and and start walking back to the squat rack. And on the walk back, a smile appears on your face, because you finished something you have never done before and you did it by welcoming all of the uncomfortableness that came with the set. Embracing it all, delving deep within yourself to finish the set, makes you believe that pain really is your friend and you can not wait to feel it once again.
About The Author
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog basbarbell.com, and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.